Under What Circumstances Will Federal Employees Be Entitled to Paid Parental Leave?

The Office of Personnel Management is issuing an interim final rule stipulating how the new paid parental leave benefit can be used by federal employees.

Update: OPM has published the new rule in the Federal Register. It is open for comments which must be received by September 9, 2020.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is issuing an interim final rule in the Federal Register next week to implement the new paid parental leave benefit for federal employees.

The new rule is set to be published on Monday, August 10. These are some of the key points regarding the new paid parental leave benefit as per OPM’s new guidance.

First, there’s a new acronym to add to your vocabulary of government related jargon: FEPLA. This stands for Federal Employee Paid Leave Act and is used gratuitously throughout OPM’s guidance document.

Paid parental leave under FEPLA is available to covered federal employees for use in connection with a birth or adoption that occurs on or after October 1, 2020. Employees are only eligible if they have completed at least 12 months of service with the federal government. OPM’s rule specifically states:

Section 7602(c) of FEPLA provides that the amendments to 5 U.S.C. 6382 dealing with paid parental leave are not effective with respect to any birth or placement (for adoption or foster care) occurring before October 1, 2020. Thus, by law, paid parental leave is available to covered employees only in connection with the birth or placement of a son or daughter that occurs on or after October 1, 2020. Since paid parental leave may not be used prior to the birth or placement involved, paid parental leave may not be used for any period of time prior to October 1, 2020.

In the event that both parents are federal employees, they are each entitled to 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Paid parental leave may be used only after the occurrence of the birth or placement involved—which results in the employee assuming a “parental” role with respect to the newly born or placed child.

However, OPM said though that an employee may take unpaid FMLA leave under 5 U.S.C. 6382(a)(1)(A) or (B) before the birth or placement to cover certain activities related to the birth or placement but cannot substitute paid parental leave for those pre-birth/placement FMLA unpaid leave periods. However, an employee could substitute annual leave or sick leave for pre-birth/placement FMLA unpaid leave periods (e.g., sick leave for prenatal care up to the point of birth or in connection with pre- placement activities necessary to allow an adoption to proceed).

Paid parental leave must be used within 12 months after becoming eligible (i.e. within 12 months of the date of the birth or adoption). At the end of that 12 month period, any unused balance is forfeited.

Federal employees have to agree, in writing, that they will keep working for the federal government for at least 12 weeks after utilizing the paid parental leave benefit. Agency heads can waive this requirement in extenuating circumstances that arise which are related to the birth, such as if the employee suffers serious health complications resulting from the birth.

If an employee fails to return to work for the required 12 weeks, an agency may (but is not required to) recover from the employee an amount equal to the total amount of the government’s contributions paid by the agency under 5 U.S.C. 8906 on behalf of the employee to maintain the employee’s health insurance coverage during the period of paid parental leave.

Federal employees with questions regarding their specific situations or circumstances should consult with their agency HR offices/representatives for guidance. For additional details on the new regulations, see the copy of OPM’s interim final rule on implementation of the new paid parental leave law below.

OPM Interim Final Rule on Paid Parental Leave

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.